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Core skills of leading from behind

Leading from behind is essentially achieving results without authority. In organisations with flatter management structures, more cross-functional projects, outsourcing, external stakeholders and virtual work, traditional command and control leadership is not appropriate, especially for the Innovation Manager. They need to be able to engage a team and stakeholders in healthy collaboration and shepherd projects (often cross-functional in nature) towards the desired outcomes.

“Leading from behind is not sitting on the sidelines, watching the team from afar. It is not passive leadership. Nor is it shirking the responsibilities of leadership. Those that lead from behind are not detached from their team members. Instead, leading from behind is active leadership but with a different mindset than the traditional view of leadership.”

Key attributes of this mindset are:

  • show humility to hear, see and understand others
  • ‘ask’ don’t ‘tell’ to engage and listen
  • inspire team members with stories, examples and benefits
  • work in the team and on the team to create a healthy culture
  • assure that goals are met – take responsibility
  • step up when assertive leadership is needed.

Capabilities for leading innovation projects

Specifically, Innovation Managers need to:

Engage individual users, customers and stakeholders: The most critical requirement is to understand the perspectives and needs of those impacted by the innovation and engage them in the process, articulate the ’why’ of the project and listen and hear their voices. People in your organisation want to be seen, heard and understood.

Build coalitions: Building a coalition means creating a group of allies, all with their own roles and responsibilities to work with you towards a common goal.

Network: Networking is the key source of knowledge, insights and ideas. You can network internally to get feedback, hear concerns and listen to ideas. External networking helps you find ideas and solutions from people in other companies and industries. Keep an open mind and share what you find out.

Persuade: You can’t be an effective agent of change if you can’t influence and persuade others. Persuasion requires you to think about how best to reach your audience and engage them.

Build great teams: If you want to engage people to make change, it’s important to focus on what they need from a team situation. The ability to create thriving teams of people to pursue change is perhaps the most critical skill for Innovation Managers.

Our research shows that there are six elements:

Hargraves Institute Collaboration Wheel

Within each of these there are four elements that make for healthy collaboration. Use the following canvas to assess individuals or teams to identify how you can improve collaboration for your project success.

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